What’s All That Noise In Your Playing?

While you’re groovin’ away, remember to play it clean

By Jon Liebman
Week of July 15, 2019

In this week’s interview, I got to sit down with longtime Spyro Gyra bassist Scott Ambush for an enlightening conversation about how he’s managed to maintain a decades-long gig, plus talk about upcoming recordings, building his own basses and more.

When the question about proper bass playing came up, Scott went straight for the obvious in his answer, emphasizing the importance of getting a good sound, a nice round tone, and avoiding fret noise.

Answer this question honestly: When you’re playing the bass, working on that cool new groove or that impressive new lick, how much are you truly concentrating on playing it clean, without all that extraneous noise and string-ring?

You want to get rid of the “junk” in your playing, don’t you?

There’s a lot to keep in mind when playing the bass. As I’ve stated repeatedly in my bass books and in my online lessons, your job as a bass player is to lay down the groove, keep solid time, and make the music feel good.

But there’s more.

It’s also vitally important that what you’re playing is enjoyable to listen to, without any unwanted noise.

I’ll never forget my first experience in a real recording studio. I was a teenager, and we were recording some demos for an upcoming project. When I heard the playback of my track, I was absolutely floored at how awful it sounded! I think there was probably more “other” stuff than actual bass. I often still wonder where I found the will to continue to learn and get better at playing bass, yet somehow I did.

Suppose the recording of the whole band sounds good overall, even if there’s a little “extracurricular activity” in your bass playing? Is that okay?

In a word, no. While you might be able to get away with that occasionally, it’s definitely not something you want to rely on. It’s always best to instill good habits in your bass playing, without cutting corners.

Ever since that terribly uncomfortable and embarrassing incident in the studio, I’ve made a point of being very meticulous in my playing. In recording the lessons for my bass instruction books and my online lessons and courses, I always make sure every track sounds good all by itself, without leaning on the guitar and drums to cover anything up. Instructor Joe Santerre emphasizes the same point in his recently uploaded FBPO course on 6-string bass, which requires even more concentration (FBPO members, you’ll want to check out Joe’s course, if you haven’t already). Regardless of the number of strings on your bass, I encourage you to strive for the same standard in your playing. No cutting corners allowed!

As you continue to improve as a bass player, this part of your technique will eventually become second nature to you. Often overlooked by many bass players, proper bass technique, including playing it clean, is a major component in the lessons and courses here at For Bass Players Only. Think of it as yet another bass-playing problem you can solve right here.

Are you struggling with eliminating that extra unwanted “stuff” in your bass playing? Leave a comment below and let us know how you’re dealing with it?

In the meantime, you check out my interview with Scott here.

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Comments on What’s All That Noise In Your Playing?

  1. Eli Bennett says:

    I was surprised at how much “other stuff” there is in the isolated bass tracks of none other than John Paul Jones on the early Zeppelin albums. In all honesty, it sounded like *I* was playing the parts! The point is that quite a bit of “stuff” can work in a full band context.

  2. Rob Walker says:

    Great response Eli! Yep, on many of the greats (John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Geddy Lee for example) when I have been fortunate to come across an isolated track posted on YouTube fret buzz and other unwanted distractions. Could it have been the era? Could it have been the miking, sound engineers fault as well? Could it be because they were playing with their fingers vs. pick or vice versa?

  3. Adam Cohen says:

    Interesting topic. For me, as my playing and overall musicianship has matured, the “other stuff” has become less of something I need to worry about and more of a desirable element that I wish to control and use at my discretion.

    There are moments as I’m playing when I feel the music dictates a certain “attitude”, if you will, coming from the bass part. In this case, a certain rattle/grit/grease can be very effective in supporting or conveying that attitude. It’s really about having absolute control over your hands and developing a touch on the bass that allows you full expression on your instrument.

    Finally, I think setup is an important part of the equation as well. You don’t want the action so low that you can’t achieve a clean sound and you don’t want it so high that you can’t manipulate the relationship between the strings and the fingerboard.

    Love the website Jon!
    ~Adam

  4. FGM says:

    I think in some of these cases, especially with the last John Entwistle and even more prominently with the late Chris Squire, that noise was a part of the overall rock sound, which is utterly different from what one would expect from a jazz rock ensemble like Spyro Gyra.

    Not to say that noise wasn’t controlled, though. This is the difference between these greates and us more mundane players.

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